Wooden toy cat

From Thebes, Egypt
New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC)

Moving jaws and bronze teeth

Cats may have been kept as pets as early as the fourth millennium BC. Two wild species of cat lived in Egypt, the jungle cat and the African wild cat. By the late first millennium BC cats were bred on an industrial scale for use in the cult of the cat goddess Bastet.

From the Twelfth Dynasty, cats are shown in tomb decoration, seated beneath the chair of the deceased or accompanying him on a hunt in the marshes. There is a fine example of the latter type of scene in the tomb of Nebamun, showing a ginger cat catching birds in its mouth and with all four paws at the same time. Such hunting scenes may also represent the struggle between civilized humans and the forces of chaos, shown as wild fowl.

The cat had a similar role on the divine plane. In the funerary text called the Litany of Re, the sun god appears as a cat and battles the snake Apep. This serpent, a manifestation of the forces of chaos, attacked the solar boat as it passed through the night sky. The god overcame Apep by cutting him in two with a knife, allowing the sun to continue its journey to be reborn at dawn.

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More information


R.M. and J.J. Janssen, Growing up in Ancient Egypt (London, The Rubicon Press, 1990)

M. Stead, Egyptian life (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)

I. Shaw and P. Nicholson (eds.), British Museum dictionary of A (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)


Museum number

EA 15671



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